Slumped into the Impala's passenger seat, Sam watched in thoughtful silence as mile after mile of shimmering black asphalt disappeared beneath her imposing hood.
He didn't have a fraction of Dean's knowledge or innate skill with vehicles and engines, but he didn't have to have any knowledge at all to know that the Impala was probably running more smoothly and more powerfully than at any time since the day she had rolled off the assembly line. Dean truly had worked wonders on her.
His eyes gradually slipped out of focus as the soporific thrum of her engine together with the flickering blur of the passing landscape began to lull him into a trance, and he couldn't deny that it felt good.
"Just listen to her purr," Dean grinned as he broke Sam's reverie with a sharp nudge in the ribs; "my girl's running like bottled lightning."
"She sure sounds good," Sam agreed with a vacant nod; "I don't think I've ever heard her sound so smooth."
Dean patted her steering wheel; "that's because I'm a freakin' genius," he grinned.
A brief moment of silence passed between the brothers, during which the only sound that filled the Impala's cabin was the velvety purr of her engine. It was Dean who eventually spoke up.
"So, speaking of geniuses, what did you find out about this skanky-assed thing we're hunting?"
"Uh, that it's skanky," Sam replied; "it's a Leshy."
"You say that like it actually means something to me," Dean replied absently, still clearly far more interested in the tone of the Impala's engine than anything Sam had to say.
Sam decided there and then that he needed to make this explanation swift and keep to words of one syllable if he was to make any inroads at all into Dean's limited attention span.
"Okay, well this thing's a woodland spirit," he began; "it …"
"It's a ghost?" Dean interrupted.
"Well, no; more like a faerie," Sam replied.
"A freakin' faerie?" Dean gave a derisory snort; "we're bustin' our asses to gank Tinkerbelle?"
"Hardly," Sam replied sharply; "this thing's about ten feet tall and it hates humans. It's known for capturing people that wander through its forest and killing them off.
"How?" Dean asked.
"Well, like most faeries, it's a prankster," Sam explained; "only this one's pranks go way beyond mischief. It's got one seriously sick sense of humour; it likes to play pranks with a deadly twist."
"Right …" Dean mumbled, inviting Sam to continue.
"It uses its spiritual bond with the forest and its faerie powers to disorient travellers. It leads them astray so that they lose their way and stumble into marshes where they drown or they fall over cliffs or into ants nests; or it leads them into caves or ditches and then it just leaves them trapped there to starve to death. Sometimes, it likes to toy with its captives, doing horrible things like stringing them up, or sitting on them and slowly squashing them or …" Sam hesitated; "… or it tickles them to death."
Dean finally looked up from the Impala's wheel.
"Tickles them to … ?" Dean grinned; "the kinky sonofabitch! Some people pay good money for that sort of thing."
"Dean," snapped Sam; "this isn't funny – people are dying!"
Dean schooled his smirk into more of an attentive smile; "okay, so how'd we gank it?"
Sam sighed; "I need to do more work on this, but as far as I can see, wrought iron does the trick."
"Wrought iron?" Dean snorted; "not just any iron? Typical."
Sam shrugged; "no," he replied; "not just any iron. Iron is a natural product of the earth so faeries have no fear of it."
"They would if I brained them with a lump of it," Dean grunted sulkily.
"Whatever," Sam replied, unimpressed; "wrought iron is tempered by mankind and so faeries are repelled by it. We can figure out the finer details tomorrow when YOU help me with the research I'm not doing right now."
Dean nodded insincerely. "Sure thing dude," he replied cockily, swinging the Impala through a weathered gateway; "and here's the reason why we're not researching tonight!"
The impala rolled smoothly into the ramshackle parking lot of an equally ramshackle looking bar, tackily named 'the Golden Fleece', and Dean was up and on his feet, crunching across the gravel before Sam had even opened his door.
Every time Sam accompanied Dean to some spit-and-sawdust bar, he remembered why he hated accompanying Dean to some spit-and-sawdust bar and why, every time, he swore blind he'd never do it again.
So how was it, then, that he was standing here right now looking around the murky interior of this undeniably spit-and-sawdust bar?
A lifetime's experience of bars had taught Sam that when his feet stuck to the floor and the lead item on the specials board was a creation with a name like 'the Vesuvius TNT Tabasco Taco', then he was in for the crappiest of crap nights.
With a sinking feeling in his gut, he dropped heavily down into a seat, burrowing as far into the dimmest corner of the building as he could, and waited while Dean hovered around the bar, buying the first of the night's refreshments and shamelessly charming a young blonde bartender in the process.
He was sure he could feel a migraine coming on.
In the end, their night exceeded all of Sam's expectations in its appallingness.
Five interminably long hours spent nursing the same bottle of beer (because Sam just knew he was going to end up driving back to the motel) and listening to music that wasn't even cool when it was released in 1979 wasn't exactly his idea of stimulating entertainment. Furthermore, fending off advances from local bimbos with the personality and intelligence of a fencepost was trying Sam's dwindling reserves of patience to the limit.
He briefly considered retiring to the mens' room and barricading himself inside one of the stalls to obtain a little of the peace and solitude he craved, until he remembered that he needed to be here to keep an eye on Dean.
Disappearing into the crowd early in the evening, Dean was busy doing the rounds of the establishment's moneymaking opportunities. He'd already crashed a Poker game and was now well into his seventh game of Pool and, by the look of things, making a handsome profit at both.
The problem there was that a toxic combination of Dean's talent for hustling plus his smart mouth meant that the potential for a punch in the teeth was never very far away. Therefore, Sam felt duty bound to act as Dean's unofficial bodyguard while he was busy parting the local rednecks from their hard-earned cash - even though the jerk had abandoned him without a backwards glance, leaving him sitting here all night all on his ownsome like Samantha freakin' Sad Act.
Sam could have cried with relief when shortly before midnight, Dean stumbled back toward him on legs which appeared to have forgotten the value of teamwork.
"C'mon bro'," he grinned crookedly, extravagantly fanning his flushed face with an impressive wad of crumpled notes while, at the same time, making a grab for Sam's lukewarm beer and draining the remaining dregs; "lessgo!"
Leaping up from the table, Sam couldn't move fast enough as he herded Dean in something resembling a straight line toward the door.
The cool night air washed over them as they emerged from the fetid atmosphere inside the building. It felt as fresh and clear as the stars that illuminated it, and Sam closed his eyes, pulling in the deepest breath he could manage to try to clear his nasal passages of the lingering miasma of burgers, onions, beer and BO. It was when he opened his eyes again that he saw Dean clumsily stabbing the key into the lock on the Impala's driver's door.
"Oh, no way," he snorted, striding over to Dean and making a grab for the keys; "you're not driving in that state!"
Surprisingly sharp for one so tanked, Dean snatched the keys backwards out of Sam's grasp.
"Gi'it a rest, S'mantha," he grumbled; "'m fine. I do 'zactly wha' I'm knowing."
"Sure you do," Sam replied blankly; "now give me the keys."
"No," Dean snapped; "geddin the car."
Holding out his cupped hand toward Dean; the expression on Sam's face brooked no argument. "Dean, I'm not kidding; give me the damn keys. NOW."
Dean's mouth opened, ready to respond with what he would, no doubt, consider a witty rejoinder, when a third voice joined the debate.
It was husky and strong, and undeniably female; and neither brother had ever heard it before that moment. "Dean Winchester," it scolded; "you're not getting behind my wheel in that condition. You hand those keys to Sammy right now!"